SikTh - Opacities: A Track-By-Track Guide
With SikTh returning to the Manchester Academy Sunday, 6th December, Ben Armstrong and Phil Weller talk us through each track on the tech metal pioneers comeback record.
Ben: Nine years ago, I found something in the SikTh’s music that was unobtainable anywhere else; a silky blend of tech-metal, nu-metal and a Nick Cave tinged love of the grotesque. It was a niche which they filled effortlessly, and previous to hearing them, was a niche I didn’t even know I was looking for.
Before their reformation a couple of years ago, Sikth, to me, were the most underrated and badly missed British metal band. After breaking up in 2008, the group were a key influence on the pioneers of the djent movement (which continues today) alongside Meshuggah, but the scene felt empty without one of its biggest progenitors as a focal point.
The band’s return, in hindsight, was perfect as now they are uniquely placed as veterans despite only having released two records. If they so choose, their best years are yet to come and Opacities is the first test of whether they’ve still got it.
Phil: To me, SikTh have always been a band whose name is ushered with a suffocating sense of gravitas, like some wicked, ancient cult or the Great Cthulu himself. Up until a few months ago I never knew a great deal about them, apart from their prestigiousness in modern metal, particularly in the technical and progressive clans. So in many ways I’m coming into their resurrection album unititaited in the band crazed aesthetics; a sound which has paved the way for so much since splitting eight years ago.
Behind The Doors
Ben: This song falls into more pacey territory for the band (see Flogging the Horses) with its D-beat drumming and rapid-fire vocal delivery in the verses. However, Sikth have chosen an opener in Behind The Doors which does a pretty good job of wrapping up everything the band are famous for. A huge, molten chorus riff and a bridge section dedicated to slowing down the pace and introducing the clean vocals of Justin Hill mean that all bases are covered, at least partially. A fine song and a superb introduction to Sikth: 2015.
Phil: They aren't easing you into things here; a carnival of carnage, riffs assault every orifice you have, it spins wildly from a myriad of directions all meeting in an explosive centre. But, as will become a cornerstone for this record, a digging and melodious hook is never too far away. The chorus here is anthemic and massive.
Ben: You've probably all heard this one by now. Philistine Philosophies is an absolute banger and a logical extension of the ideas explored on the excellent Sanguine Seas of Bigotry from back in 2006. Notably, Sikth experiment with drone elements and Goodman’s warbled croon to great effect here, building tension whenever they’re not pummelling you with the song’s razor sharp and technical main riff. I especially love the outro which uses cyclical polyrhythms alongside the lyrics “Round and round and round it goes, round and round and round it goes”. This passage is genuinely nauseating and is maybe a comment on the theories offered up by art-haters – as the song’s title suggests.
Phil: As a guitarist, it’s hard not to proverbially wet myself at the feast of techniques unleashed throughout this track. Underpinned by the kind of grooves which will unnervingly rattle the richtre scale, the real the technical brilliance is not so much slapping you in the face, but is instead buried subtly into the song’s depths. Nuanced to shit, there is so much character to this song it’s insane, but they never let their showboatery get in the way of what is, first and foremost, a painfully catchy and heavy metal song.
Under The Weeping Moon
Ben: This one opens with a furious and dextrous riff which recalls Way Beyond the Fond Old River from Death of a Dead Day. At this point – it’s quite clear that the band are taking cues from that record, structurally, to write this one. I can’t say I blame them either. After the mayhem has died down (a touch), we’re treated to one of the best choruses on the record at the 2 minute mark before the whole arrangement careens back into a djentified version of the main riff and some of those excellent trademark vocal exchanges. Crazy voices abound in what is the closest metal has ever come to recreating the Shakespearian moments of madness so prevalent in theatre.
Phil: That opening, twisting riff is as easy to follow as it is to catch a fly with chopsticks. Mind-boggling though it is, it’s envelope pushing is that pixie dust that they sprinkle on yet another well rounded track. In the verses they truly utilise the ying and yang of their two frontmen as the spar lines with a deadly execution. The hook lavished cornerstone is once more integral to the songs memorability, elsewhere there being another army of riffs and musical moments that just leave you astounded, the outro riff especially like a possessed and pissed off classic rock riff.
Ben: Here’s the token (but greatly appreciated) spoken word piece which really hits home my last point. This is true poetry and theatrical monologue masquerading as a track on a metal record. I have no idea why Sikth ever thought to make this their ‘thing’, but I’m so happy they did. It makes me properly tune in and listen to the lyrics, the message and the sound design of the album in a whole new way.
Phil: To properly describe this interlude track would ruin its poignancy. Breaking up the album well it is a demented, sharp tonged poem backing by creepy and eerie sound effects. If you let this song swallow you whole then it will hit you hard.
Ben: Another techy track, this, but featuring tighter, knottier riffs than Under the Weeping Moon. The passage that follows the chorus is probably my favourite on the record, channelling Vildhjarta with crushing lows and piercing highs combine to great effect. The chorus itself is a real earworm and features sentimental lyrics courtesy of the two frontmen: “So far away from home, everywhere I go”. Goodman also has an amazingly surreal spot in the bridge “Don’t you think it’d be more fun in a world of bubblegum?!” before the band continue with (slightly) more standard arrangements. The song fades out with a truly beautiful harmony section and takes us into the final track on Opacities.
Phil: In an instant, the roots of so many bands, from Periphery and Destrage come into full view. For the prior especially, whose double album earlier this year was far too hit and miss to warrant such a lengthy release, are schooled into how to write a song that both pummels you and uplifts you – kinda like a bear hug. My highlight of the record, it reeks of class and bombast, striking the perfect balance of gilt-edged, guitar driven technical anarchy and pinpoint, enormous choruses.
Days Are Dreamed
Ben: Apocalyptic, traumatised, desperate. This is Sikth at their most vulnerable and serves as Opacities’ only real curveball. At 6:15, it’s the record’s longest track and features virtually no distorted guitars or the frenetic pace changes we’re used to. It’s a sad sea-shanty turned epic; a real departure for the band and their usual signatures. If anything, it mostly evokes Nick Cave’s weirder output which in itself isn’t surprising (see: Tupelo cover), though it’s a strange way to end this EP. It works as a break from the onslaught of the last five songs but would better serve as a breather in the middle of a full length LP in my opinion. Still, it showcases a new side of Sikth and points toward further expansion of the band’s core sound on their next release. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another nine years.
Phil: Opening with a lucid, airy soundscape, you wait with baited breath to see what these lovable lunatics will offer you in the EPs closing number. Pained vocals bruise the atmosphere as the song slithers patiently towards its inevitable crescendo. Layers coat the mix – tremolo guitar, screamed, echoic backing vocals and cymbal heavy drum work that becomes almost oceanic. It never explodes in the way you’d imagine, instead fading out like a nursery rhyme gone sour, but that’s what makes the song. It never gives into what you expect. Once more, these maestros are the ones having the last laugh.
In short, I can’t really see anyone being disappointed in this record if you’re a fan of the band or any of the army of acts who have followed like disciples down their insane path. Every member brings their A game and, most importantly, the sum so much greater than the whole.
Words: Ben Armstrong & Phil Weller